Rio Salado History and Restoration

When the River FlowedThe goal of the Phoenix Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project is to restore the native wetland and riparian (i.e. riverbank) habitats that were historically associated with the Salt River, which once flowed year-round through what is now Phoenix.The Hohokam, a farming people who lived in southern and central Arizona roughly from 1 A.D. to 1450, used the Salt River to turn the Salt and Gila river valleys into lush green farmland and thriving villages. Unsurpassed as farmers, the Hohokam established an extensive canal network branching out from the river to irrigate a variety of crops.The Pueblo Grande Museum in central Phoenix houses the remains of a Hohokam village and the museum’s website has extensive information on the Hohokam’s presence in the Valley of the Sun.Even in relatively modern times, the Salt River continued to hold a central place in the consciousness of the Valley’s residents. As recently as the turn of the century, postcards from the era demonstrate the pride that the river generated.DamsShortly after the turn of the century, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation placed dams along the Salt and Verde Rivers to create a series of lakes. While the dams achieved their goal of providing a reliable water supply for the valley, they left behind a dry, barren riverbed.Today, the land along the riverbed has become lined with landfills, sand and gravel pits, and industrial areas interspersed with a few older neighborhoods. It is a part of this landscape that the Rio Salado project has transformed.LocationThe Rio Salado Project is located in a five-mile section of the Salt River within the city of Phoenix. The site totals 595 acres and extends from just west of the Interstate-10 crossing on the eastern upstream end to 19th Avenue on the western or downstream end. The Project site includes the overbanks, typically within 50 feet of the top of bank, slopes of the banks to the terrace level, terrace level, and Low Flow Channel. Project construction crews removed hundreds of tons of buried trash from the project site, much of which was recycled tires Restoring Native VegetationVisitors can now enjoy restored historical habitat in the project area in theSalt River from 24th Street westward to 19th Avenue.Trees are a big component of the restoration efforts. Most of the native trees planted in the project area were grown from seeds and cuttings gathered from within 1/2 mile of the river bottom.Cottonwood-Willow gallery forests were historically the most abundant riparian ecosystem among low-elevation rivers of the southwest. They once flourished around the banks of the Salt River. Large areas of cottonwood and willows will grace the terraces of the Phoenix Rio Salado project area.Another common Southwester riparian habitat, Mesquite bosques, also grace the terraces. The disappearance of once-abundant bosques this century has made the ecosystem the fourth rarest plant community of the 104 communities identified in the United States.Other habitats in the project area include:Lower Sonoran Desert Palo Verde and Mesquite  Salt Bush/Quail Bush/Burro Brush  Aquatic Strand  Wetland MarshAquatic strand will be encouraged within the Project’s low-flow channel (LFC) and at select open-channel conveyance point located throughout the project.The project includes:140 acres of mesquite bosque habitat  43 acres of cottonwood/willow habitat  65 acres of lower Sonoran habitat (paloverde and mequite association)  80 acres saltbush/quail bush/burro brush  51 acres of aquatic strand  200 acres of open space  16 acres of wetland marsh The Project demonstration area includes the overbanks, slopes of the banks to the terrace level and Low Flow Channel  Water for the ProjectA series of five wells are the main source of water for the vegetation and wetland areas in the Rio Salado Habitat area. Pumps draw shallow groundwater into a number of areas throughout the project.The pumps, pipes and canals that distribute water from the wells at the Rio Salado project all are interconnected. In a "redundant" system like this, the still-functioning wells can pick up the slack for any well that may need to be temporarily shut down for maintenance or other reasons. Storm drains also re-direct runoff from rain to the project area and help nourish vegetation.Where Does the Water Go?Small reservoirs, like the one pictured here, store water that will be used to nourish vegetation on the project's banks. The various wetlands also are nourished by the well system.